If the Chicago Blackhawks are to improve their playoff position in the Western Conference, they must do it without another key performer for the immediate future.
Looking for a season-high sixth straight victory, the Blackhawks will be without suspended defenseman Duncan Keith on Sunday night when they try to avoid a fourth consecutive loss to the visiting Predators, the team directly ahead of them in the division and conference standings.
With captain Jonathan Toews set to miss his 16th consecutive contest because of a concussion, Chicago (42-25-8) was informed Friday that Keith was suspended five games for elbowing Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in the head during Wednesday's 2-1 overtime victory. The hit came shortly after Sedin delivered a hard check on Keith that was not called a penalty.
"I'm not trying to hurt anybody,'' said Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner, who has four goals and 36 assists in 72 games while logging a team-high 26 minutes and 54 seconds of ice time per game. "Everything happens fast."
Keith's absence is another major blow for the Blackhawks, who are in the midst of a 9-1-1 stretch and looking to move up in the West standings. Chicago is sixth in the conference with 92 points, but two behind fifth-place Nashville (43-24-8) and three back of Detroit, which is fourth.
The Blackhawks, however, have managed to get key contributions from some unlikely sources of late.
Rookie Andrew Shaw, who deflected home the winner off a shot from defenseman Johnny Oduya on Wednesday, has four of his 11 goals and three assists in the last four games.
Noted for a being a stay-at-home defenseman, Oduya has a goal and four assists in the last seven.
"I like the guys that step up and the contributions we're getting across the board," coach Joel Quenneville told the Blackhawks' official website.
Marian Hossa has two goals with eight assists in the last seven games overall, and three goals and four assists versus Nashville in 2011-12.
Teammate Patrick Kane scored 13 goals in the first 63 games of the season, but has seven in the last 12, including his 20th on Wednesday.
Kane had two goals with an assist during Chicago's 5-4 overtime home victory over Nashville on Oct. 31. Since then, he's gone without a point versus the Predators as the Blackhawks have been outscored 11-5 while dropping three in a row to their Central Division foe.
The Predators snapped a three-game skid at the United Center with a 3-1 victory Jan. 24.
Nashville allowed 18 goals while losing two in a row and four of five before Pekka Rinne made 24 saves in Saturday's 3-1 home victory over Winnipeg.
Rinne's performance could earn him another start in this back-to-back scenario Sunday. He's posted a 1.67 goals-against average during Nashville's three-game winning streak over the Blackhawks.
Back in the NHL after playing the last four seasons in Russia, Alexander Radulov recorded an assist against the Jets to go along with a goal in Thursday's 5-1 loss at Pittsburgh.
"They have big guys in the lineup, especially with Radulov right now,'' Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said. "The team is better with him.''
Though Radulov has not faced the Blackhawks since 2008, he has two goals and three assists in seven career games at the United Center.
Nashville's David Legwand has one goal and five assists versus Chicago this season.
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